More Than 4 Million Young People Have Experienced Poor Mental Health Over The Pandemic
It’s no secret that the pandemic has wreaked havoc on people’s mental health: whether you’re furloughed or excluded from government funding, or a doctor working on the front line, it’s been an extremely difficult time for everyone.
However, while it has affected all ages of the population, it’s the younger generation that has been the worst-affected, with a staggering 4.1 million young people having experienced poor mental health throughout the ongoing pandemic.
A recent study conducted by Bupa found that since March 2020, three in four 13-to-19-year-olds had experienced physical health issues related to poor mental health. Half of those surveyed have starting using harmful coping mechanisms such as self-harm, drugs and drinking.
The study found that issues people have been worrying over range from academic achievements and job prospects following the pandemic, to feeling ‘stuck’ in their family homes and not being able to socialise with their friends.
Dr. Dominique Thompson, an expert on student mental health and author of How To Grow a Grown Up, discussed how young people’s mental health has been the worst affected by the pandemic. She explained to UNILAD, ‘The younger generation are having to deal with an enormous amount of things that challenge their wellbeing, and some of that is different for them [compared to older adults] because they are young, and because their biology is still not fully developed.’
Dr. Thompson added:
They are more likely to feel it as almost a physical pain when they can’t be with their friends because young people are biologically driven to be with their friends, to connect with their friends.
While I think it’s absolutely fair that we could say COVID has had the worst physical impact on the older generation and people with underlying conditions, we know that the mental health impact has been greater in the younger generation.
She also emphasised how important it is for young people to socialise and how it plays a key part in their development. Dr. Thompson explained, ‘When we go through the adolescent years, we change from being a child where we want to be with our family all the time to being a young adult. The bit in the middle is that period of life when you learn to live independently and separate from your family.’
‘It becomes all about who they can connect with outside their family. Then suddenly we went into lockdown meaning you have to stay with your family 24 hours a day. You can’t see your friends. You can’t go to school anymore. And that has interrupted a very natural, normal process.’
Dr. Thompson added that isolating young people can have detrimental long-term effects on their mental health, with studies showing it can lead to them developing depression up to nine years later.
One teenager who struggled is 16-year-old Freddie Davidson, who attempted to take his own life. He is currently in hospital seeking treatment.
While Freddie had mental health conditions prior to the pandemic, he explained to UNILAD that the past 12 months have made it worse. He said, ‘People spending so much time with their families has been difficult. It’s hard to spend so much time with the same people for so long and you can’t see your friends either – especially if some people’s parents or whoever they are living with are vulnerable, meaning they can’t mix with anyone.’
I think for me, school was also a big thing. With online learning, you don’t really want to participate. You don’t want to sit in bed all day because it’s not the same. Even though some people say they hate school, they definitely miss it now because I think deep down they realise that they miss friends, socialising and stuff.
In light of his time in hospital, Freddie told UNILAD that the lack of face-to-face help for young people during the pandemic ‘100%’ impacted his mental health, and emphasised how important it is to keep mental health hospitals open.
Discussing how general hospitals handle people taking an overdose – in his experience – Freddie explained, ‘After the second time someone goes in with an overdose, you should recognise that there is a bit of a pattern, but they’ll send them home that evening and think nothing of it.’
Freddie added that he thinks general hospitals, particularly in A&E departments, should have areas specifically for people having a mental health crisis.
Another young person who has found their mental health has been affected by the pandemic is 22-year-old university student Charlotte Butler Blondel. When the country was first put in lockdown, Charlotte told UNILAD that she ‘treated it as a holiday’, but as time went on and lockdown was extended, she began to find it increasingly more difficult.
The reality of what was happening got harder to ignore. It was so strange to be faced with so much horror and upset on the news and on social media, and yet at the same time be so amazingly bored.
I felt a constant mixture of upset at my first year of university slipping away, and also guilt that I was feeling sad when I was so lucky that no one close to me was suffering.
She continued, ‘Almost a year on, with a potential light at the end of the tunnel, I am definitely feeling the effects of a year of worry and isolation. I feel anxious at the prospect of doing basically anything. Speaking on a Zoom call makes my palms sweaty and I’m much slower at finding the right words to say when talking to someone. I’ve spoken to a few of my friends, and a lot of them feel the same.’
Fellow university student Matt Cox, 20, said that his mental health ‘spiralled’ as a result of the pandemic. He explained, ‘Over the course of the pandemic my mental health did spiral, as I had so much free time to reflect on my own thoughts; I was no longer able to run away from my problems, or to be distracted with a million and one things. I was trapped in my student home and had to come to terms with what I had been pushing away for so long.’
Matt managed to get through these difficult periods and said he’s proud of himself for doing so. He also described it all as a ‘learning curve’ for him, as he came to terms with the fact that he had to start addressing these problems, and realised that it was okay to feel the way he did.
With there being an increase in young people self-harming, Dr. Thompson gave some advice for any young people struggling. She explained, ‘I always think it’s important with self-harm to be not so focused on the ‘what’s happening’ – the cuts, or whatever the form of self-harm that’s happening – but to focus on the underlying problem here and what needs to be addressed, so that the self-harm will no longer be necessary.’
‘If you are the person self-harming, make sure you talk to someone because it can be very hard to move yourself out of that on your own. There are loads of options there. You’ve got charities. If you want to be more anonymous, you’ve got your GP, you’ve got counsellors and NHS therapists and so on who are available, and fantastic online charities.’
Charlotte found talking to her family and friends was a huge help. She told UNILAD:
I’d say the most important thing that I’ve found helpful is talking to my friends and family, whether it’s going for a walk or on a video call. […] catching up with loved ones gives me so much energy, and makes me feel much less alone. It’s important to hear other perspectives – it’s not healthy to always be thinking about yourself.
Dr. Thompson also underlined the importance of having routine and taking control of the things that you’re able to, for example what time you’re going to have lunch that day, what time you will go for a walk, and so on. She also emphasised the importance of going outside every day, even if the weather is bad.
Demonstrating how routine can be hugely beneficial, Matt said, ‘In the new year I began to develop my own routine; I started to read a chapter of a book every night and even begin to work out in the mornings. Keeping this consistency has really helped me over the recent weeks, and as cliché as it sounds, keeping a routine no matter what it may be, does benefit your physical and mental well-being.’
In a bid to help young people’s mental health, Dr. Thompson, Charlotte and Matt have joined a campaign by Aardman Studios, the studio behind Wallace and Gromit. The ‘What’s Up With Everyone?’ campaign is aimed at people aged 17 to 24 in a bid to help young people to become more aware of the factors that may be having a negative impact on their mental wellbeing.
If you’re experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is there to support you. They’re open from 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year. Their national number is 0800 58 58 58 and they also have a webchat service if you’re not comfortable talking on the phone.
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